The Social Construction of Family Ties and Success in the Job Market



The utility of social ties in the market for jobs is well-established, yet the underlying mechanisms have remained a matter of debate. Ties can be valuable because they act as conduits for the flow of information and other resources, but their value can also derive from their ability to serve as signals of identity, used by self and others, to gauge the otherwise difficult to observe underlying qualities of actors. In this paper, we clarify the mechanism responsible for network effects in the job market. But, more fundamentally, we argue that ties have taken on a reified quality in network theory, obscuring the fact that ties are socially constructed and can be the subject of dissensus as well as consensus. Using data from the market for head coaches in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball (2001-2007), we document the potentially divisive processes that underlie the social construction of “family ties” (i.e., ties to widely recognised and respected coaching families, such as the “Coach K. family” centered around the legendary Coach Krzyzewski), and we examine the implications of these processes for social identity and success in the market for jobs.